A gathering of bookbinders

A gathering of bookbinders
8 December 2011

At the beginning of November, close to eighty bookbinders gathered at the Rheinberger Centre in Yarralumla for what promised to be an exciting week-end of anecdotal and informative exchanges. The Gathering, a national conference of book binders, was organised by the Canberra Bookbinders Guild,  the second to be held in Canberra since 1984. David and I, along with Sara and Fabienne, mingled with the famous, the mighty and the professional amateurs; binders from all over Australia and even one from the  Lilly Library in the US.  I hardly knew a soul. Fabienne, our current volunteer, was going to give demonstrations on how to make headbands, and had practised her spiel on us during the week; she hardly knew anyone either. I'd like to say that all four of us clung together like limpets, but in fact, it was such a fun conference that we met over half the participants in next to no time, and I'd like to think that we even made some new friends.

Fabienne demonstrating headband construction

Fabienne demonstrating headband construction

The conference was divided between lectures and hands-on sessions. The organisers were a forward thinking bunch of people, breaking up the day quite sensibly with practical sessions, and keeping the more intense, listening parts of the conference to the mornings when everyone was fresh. Topics for lectures included: working with unbacked cloth, Celtic art and Book production in the early Celtic Christian Church and what  the differences are between preservation, conservation and restoration (given by our new lab manager Robin Tait). Joy Tonkin, a Canberra book artist was the timekeeper. She played a very important part; she kept speakers on time, so that the whole 2 days flowed spectacularly well. Her little bell rang for the all important tea and lunch breaks. These breaks  were absolutely fantastic: not only was there good food in abundance, something that makes any meeting convivial, but their timing was crucial in allowing everyone to mingle and to carry out conversations lasting more than five minutes. Facebook was well utilised over the week end. Jim Canary, visiting binder from the Lilly Library at the Indiana University, gave a talk on the miniature collection housed in his Library, as well as an informative  demonstration on how to make your own tools from very simple materials. We learnt how to colour the edges of a book using graphite and paint; we made headbands and we were amazed at how easily, yet precisely, one can make onlays and inlays.

Graphite Edging with Joy Tonkin

Graphite Edging with Joy Tonkin

Inlays, onlays and recesses with Barbara Schmelzer

Inlays, onlays and recesses with Barbara Schmelzer

End results

End results

In the hall were examples of fine design bindings, with their makers at the centre with us. We talked books, saw many power point presentations of fine bindings from Australia and overseas. We had the opportunity to talk with traders and teachers. As an added extra, we watched Cali Andersen's holiday snaps of her time spent at the Centro del bel libro, Ascona. It looked scary; I felt overwhelmed just looking at the pictures of what she learnt during her course. I realised that I knew very little, and that I was surrounded by people with a millenia of expertise. For our part, the conference ended with a visit to the National Library by about 44 book binders the following Monday. A display of some of our finest bindings in the Collection had been arranged with Andrew Sargent, our resident rare books person. The Conference room was full of chatty binders commenting on the bindings, some made by the very people standing next to them. They also trooped to the Bindery where they happily checked out our wonderful working conditions. Canberra book artist Caren Florence has written in much more depth about this conference, and of course, from a different perspective. It was a week-end for renewing acquaintances and making new friendships. What did David and I gain from this conference? Inspiration? Renewed vigour? The best word I can come up with is 'excitment'.  Things are changing in the lab, and I think they've changed in our heads as well. Well, certainly in mine.